Post-terror plans meet opposition

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Redevelopment proposals for Norway’s state government complex in Oslo, heavily damaged in a bombing attack two years ago, were meeting growing opposition over the weekend. The opposition offers an indication of why the redevelopment process is expected to take at least 10 more years.

Memorials will also be held near the bombed government complext in downtown Oslo, where many of the damaged buildings remain covered in tarps and surrounded by a new security fence. PHOTO: Views and News

Both of these buildings, which formerly housed the Office of the Prime Minister, the justice and education ministries, would be torn down under the proposals now up for debate. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Architects, construction firms, city politicians and government workers themselves were among those responding negatively to the recommendations revealed last week by a state-appointed consulting group. Perhaps the most controversial recommendation was the one to tear down the high-rise (called Høyblokka in Norwegian) that housed the Office of the Prime Minister and the Justice Ministry, and served for years as the centerpiece of the state government complex (Regjeringskvartal).

The 14-story concrete building dates from 1958 and was the cornerstone of the complex that later included the adjacent Y-blokka in similar style, which housed the education ministry. The consultants also recommend tearing it down, but preserving both buildings’ integrated artwork by Pablo Picasso and other artists.

Now standing vacant
The entire complex, initially anchored by what’s now the Finance Ministry in a building from 1904, was built out over a period from 1958 to 1996. All the buildings were damaged during the bombing on July 22, 2011 but have been somewhat cleaned up and left standing until the government decides what to do with them. Ministries forced to move out of the most severely damaged buildings have since been working in leased space elsewhere around Oslo that’s considered “temporary” quarters but which likely may be used for another 10 years until a new complex is completed.

The consulting group, made up of construction advisory firm OPAK and architectural firms Metier and LPO, said it was possible to preserve the high-rise H-blokka, “even though we recommend tearing it down,” Asbjørn Hansen of OPAK told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He claims it will cost NOK 400 million more to save and remodel the building than to tear it down, and thus isn’t the best use of taxpayer money.

He and his colleagues also recommend tearing down the so-called S-blokka that housed the Labour Ministry behind the former high-rise Office of the Prime Minister and “starting fresh,” with new buildings and park area around them. Their proposal for the area in the heart of downtown Oslo, just a few blocks east of the Parliament, would cost an estimated NOK 9 billion and could be completed by 2021.

Preservationists object
While some support tearing down the buildings, including survivors of the bombing who have claimed they never want to return to them, others argue for preservation of post-war architecture. They don’t think the bomber should have the gratification of seeing the building razed after all, and feel there’s too much albeit modern history in the building to destroy it.

“I’m amazed that the consultants want to tear it down when there are so many alternatives,” Kim Skaara, leader of the Norwegian architects’ association NAL, told newspaper Aftenposten. The head of Norway’s national preservation agency, Riksantikvaren, also has urged saving the high-rise, as have other construction experts.

Still others, including members of the city government like Bård Folke Fredriksen, are most concerned about the need to make the government buildings more secure without closing off the area to the public. “Security and the structure of the complex must not harm the need to keep the area lively,” Fredriksen told Aftenposten.

Interior plans also opposed
Representatives for government workers, meanwhile, were upset about plans that the interiors of the new buildings would have so-called “open landscapes” without the private offices that most ministerial employees have long had. DN reported that at least 75 percent of deskspace would be in open, uncommitted areas, with only 25 percent of state employees offered private offices.

There also would be fewer desks than employees, meaning workers would need to jostle for workspace like many of the colleagues in the private sector already must do. The state could save nearly NOK 2 billion by eliminating the vast majority of assigned offices, claimed consultant Svein Olaussen, adding that open landscapes also offer more flexibility. Employees, meanwhile, vastly prefer having their own workspace. “The only thing positive abourt an open landscape is that it’s cheap,” employee representative Bjørn Halvorsen told DN.

Rigmor Aasrud, the government minister currently in charge of the redevelopment project, stressed that no decisions have been taken on the redevelopment plans, and none will be until at least next year. It will be up to the next government formed after the September 9 election to make such decisions, with debate likely to cause further delays.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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